Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Puritans in America, Book One

I wonder if anyone cares about the Puritans anymore?  Their story is the foundation of the American experiment.  They were responsible for laying the roots of self-government and religious liberty in America.

Unfortunately, I am afraid those ideas are no longer relevant since more Americans today prefer an intrusive government, to oversee their every need, and think religious liberty provides too much freedom for mean people to harbor moral principles, which make other people feel badly about their sin. This is how far we have been removed from our founding.

Well, I find the Puritan story fascinating, and I definitely see God's Hand in it.  Following, will be a three-part series on the Puritans.  After reading Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, for my history challenge, I was curious to read more about the Puritans; and I already had these three little books in my possession.

The First Book

Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, which is the earliest published account of Puritans in America, is a compilation of journal entries about the "American experience" written by several Puritans in Massachusetts.

Their greatest purpose for settlement is reiterated again: they desired to "carry the Gospel of Christ into those foreign parts, amongst those people that as yet had no knowledge nor taste of God..." and that it may be for "the furtherace of the kingdom of Christ, the enlargement of the bounds of our sovereign lord King James, and for the good and profit of those who, either by purse or person of both, are agents in the same...."

Self-Government During Divine Right of Kings

When the Pilgrims recognized that they were outside of the law because they did not have a patent for New England, and since man is given to sin, an agreement was made to "combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose..;" and for this reason they wrote The Mayflower Compact, which was a stark contrast of self-government in a time of divine right of kings.

The Indians Like to Socialize, While the Pilgrims Need to Work

There were many meetings with Indians; and the Indians enjoyed entertaining and socializing for days with their new neighbors, while the Pilgrims were frustrated by this because they needed to work. They were under severe contract with the "merchant adventurers" for seven years, to produce goods (food, fish, lumber, furs, etc.) to pay for their voyage.   But their goal was always to be at peace with the natives.

The entry of the first Thanksgiving includes: "We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very loving and ready to pleasure us.  We often go to them, and they come to us..." and "Yea, it hath pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto us..."

Good Reasons to Come to America, Guilt Free

The final entry lists reasons why it was lawful to leave England and come into America, without all of the guilt:  "Man must not respect only to live, and do good to himself, but he should see where he can live to do most good to others"; that is: the Puritans understood the native people did not know God, and they believed it their duty to bring the Gospel to them.

"But what right did the Puritans have to live in the "heathens' country?"

Well (the writer explains), because it is the King's country.  In fact, Massasoit willingly and lovingly acknowledged the King's Majesty of England to be his master and commander, along with divers other native tribes.

And furthermore, the writer states that the Indians cannot go to England; hence, they (Pilgrims) must go to the Indians; and that England is full, but America is empty.  The writer continues, "They (Indians) are not industrious, neither have art, science, skill or faculty to use either the land or the commodities of it, but all spoils, rots, and is marred for want of manuring, gathering, ordering, etc." The anonymous writer explains, "...so it is lawful now to take a land which none useth, and make use of it."

No one can argue: these Puritans were God-fearing and God-honoring, and everything they did was for the glory and obedience of Him, and to King James (so long as he left them alone to manage their own affairs).

Book Two: The Puritan Dilemma
Book Three: Visible Saints

This book count towards:

13 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Ruth! I commented a few moments ago as if this was a discussion site rather than your personal journal, so I deleted my prior comment. I was feeling confused about historical black marks about Puritans -- like the Salem Witch trials and Oliver Cromwell's behavior in Ireland (he was a Puritan, though not one of the Separatists who came over to America.) But of course this journal reflects your own reading journey in progress, and you are building your thoughts on this stuff as you go, as I am! So, instead, I'll just say that I am interested in the Puritans (to answer your opening question) but that I've read very little about them to date. Sorry if you saw my prior comment! I wasn't trying to be argumentative -- that's actually the last thing I like over at my place, but the question sort of popped out. Cheers!! x

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    1. I just replied - in book form - joyfully answering your questions that are perfect for discussion. Please ask to your hearts content. If I am going to publicly post my opinion about what it is I read, I am inviting comment and even backlash. I'd rather someone discuss these ideas rather than censure me or cut me off, as I want to do the same to others who provoke these questions from me. Know what I mean?

      Nonetheless, I appreciate your second comment, as well.

      ~ Ruth

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    2. Okay, thank you!

      Over at my place, I feel a bit shy with my ideas, since I am so new to literature, to history, and etc. I've had my views attacked before (and not kindly), and it makes me feel very shy about sharing, since nothing I say is ever my final thought, and I'm so often just trying to capture half-thoughts between classes. I like to sketch out the intuition I "feel," but it often takes a while for those intuitions to form themselves into words and ideas. That's why I have my journal: it helps me capture those half-thoughts. I love friendly discussion, but I'm afraid that I'm a bit like a bird at a window: I need a gentle movement or I fly away. :) I've never been one to like debate, perhaps because I come from a rather aggressive intellectual family. I seem to be the only artistic one. I'm far more inclined to sit and quietly listen, and ask a question now and then. It's hard to balance that with the value that can be had in a good debate when it's offered with respect and candor, because, though rare, those sorts of debates do foster wisdom. :)

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    3. You're welcome, and I understand.

      I was (and am) the quiet (and artistic) one in my family, too; but I come from a loud and passionate Italian family and could not get a word in edgewise. I resorted to journaling b/c it was the only place I could speak my mind w/o being interrupted.

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  3. These are important questions.

    I know the Salem Witch Trials, so I'll speak to it, which is a prime example of the very vices Bradford and other Puritan leaders were concerned about.

    That event took place 70 years after Mourt's Relation was written. Although I do not write in depth in this post, Bradford and the men of this company knew and understood how difficult it would be to maintain a godly and pure church, given how corrupt man is. Hence, some would stray from what is good and right.

    This was their dilemma, and it is addressed in the other two books about the Puritans of the Mass. Bay Colony. In fact, one main issue they had dealt with the importance of allowing a church to discipline its own members, which was not permitted in England.

    But by the 1690's, there were several issues building in Salem: the Church of Salem was not allowed to discipline its members and must involve civil authorities; an ungodly pastor with selfish ambition was leading the church; and there were political factions causing bitterness between two main families. This was grounds for the deceit, selfishness, and false accusations that caused the unjust trials of almost 200 and the death of 20.

    BTW, Puritans never concerned themselves with the practice of witchcraft, but the English considered witchcraft a crime against the king and punished such accusations brutally. So it is possible that those beliefs were rooted in the English culture, not in the biblical law of the Puritans.

    I think we have plenty of examples that demonstrate that the Puritans were good men and women who wanted to do right by their fellow man, wanted to be free from the restrictions of a monarchy that prevented them from worshipping God biblically, wanted to live and raise up their children without the burden of a heavy government, and most of all, to love, obey, and serve God freely and share the gospel with others.

    Sadly, though, as the Puritans understood, ungodly men would infiltrate the churches and Christianity, and if they did not have the freedom to root it out, there would be factions and turmoil, and God would punish them for their disobedience. It is possible that The Salem Witch Trials is an example of that very fear coming true.

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    1. I guess I don't know enough about the history of the Puritans to have real room to comment. Are you saying that the Puritans who were involved in the death of twenty in Salem were a faction who didn't align with the ideals of Puritanism?

      I guess my point is only that the Puritans.. well, I find myself confused about them. It seems like throughout American history there's this myth that they were good, happy, pleasant little people in funny hats, who wanted religious tolerance, but it seems like what they actually wanted was for everyone to be Christian, and not just Christian, but their version of Christian. Or else they'd be killed. (There's where I'm thinking of the Boston Martyrs, the Salem Witch Trials, and Oliver Cromwell's slaughter of Irish civilians -- which some have said was done as a form of "ethnic cleansing.")

      And maybe this skeptical view is due only to the stories about Puritans I've been exposed to. All of the quiet souls who lived in sincerity and never hurt anyone seem to struggle to make it into the annals of history.

      I can't get out of my mind, though, the idea that Mary I must certainly have thought she was doing God's work when she burned people at the stake for being Protestant; that Oliver Cromwell likely believed he was doing God's work when he slaughtered Irish civilians for being Catholic; that John Brown certainly believed he was doing God's work when he massacred people in Kansas.

      And this is a huge one that bothers me: I don't actually know what the Puritan history was with Native Americans. I have this gut feeling it wasn't good, but I don't know. Were they okay with the Native Americans as they were, or did they expect them to convert, lose their language, lose their customs, lose their land, and finally ingratiate themselves with the Western part of America where they wouldn't be in the way? What I mean is, did the Puritans believe in religious tolerance for other nations and religions, or only for themselves? I'm actually asking, not saying I know, because I don't.

      Anyway, as I said above, I didn't mean to argue with you! This is your journal, and you're surely more read on this topic than I am. But your post left me which questions, which I reckon can best be resolved by exposure to the topic -- for example, this book you are reading. :)

      My folks were living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the 1600s through the 1700s, when they moved on to North Carolina and Georgia. They lived in Charlestown and Concord, and my grandfather served on the first jury in Boston. So I guess I feel invested. My questions are sparked by historical curiosity -- not disrespect for your views, and certainly not knowledge.

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    2. We should trade emails! You raise such great points, and I hope to reply to all of them:

      I do not think the first Puritans were happy; in fact, I wonder if the women kept journals, would we get a different perspective? If you read Of Pilgrim's Progress, by Bradford, it was a miserable place and time. I first conceived that God was against them with all that they endured. Bradford's wife probably committed suicide, and some speculate she couldn't take the hardship. And that was before she even left the ship!

      Interestingly, I think it was Mourt's Relation, in which the editor adds that the author(s) painted a rosy picture for the sake of encouraging others in England to come. However, in my second read, The Puritan's Dilemma, many of them went back to England. They rather endure the hardships of an overgrown monarchy than what New England had to offer. it was awful.

      I have no questions about their dealings with the Indians. The Pilgrims (or Puritans) state plainly that it was their goal to be at peace and trade with the Indians. They even stood with certain tribes against their enemies, like allies. But, yes, they wanted to convert the Indians to know Christ as their Savior b/c the Puritans understood Scripture to mean to spread the Gospel literally. These first Puritans did not force or punish Indians for non-conversion. They wanted more than anything to live in peace with them, but they wanted to save their souls, if they could. What tragically happens to the Native people afterward is a separate topic: it has nothing to do with the Puritans of these stories.

      The stories of the early Puritans is captured in these books, but they are not very popular and even out of print. So we don't read them, and students are not required to study them. These truths have been replaced with "stories" that fit the agenda of those who want to change history. (My opinion)

      Now, as for other events you bring up - some of which I am not familiar, but others, like John Brown - well, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who use God to take the law into their own hands. But does it mean that Christianity is evil and wicked? No, but man can be, and it is man who twists Scripture and the Truth and causes disillusions about what is right and good.

      After my few reads, and, truly, I am not done, I am confident that the early Pilgrims and Puritans, were biblical. Unfortunately, there is no utopia on earth, and what they established was bound to be distorted and corrupted. Bradford knew it, and so did Winthrop (he comes in my next book review).

      Also, I talk about Anne Hutchinson in my next post, who was thought to be (in stories told today) a witch, BUT Winthrop and church leaders were concerned that she was practicing a dangerous form of separatism, which is a form of self-righteousness; she was highly intelligent, and they were only going to censure her, but when she increased her rebellion against them, they banned her because she was dividing the church and the community. If they permitted her to stay, the colony would have collapsed and the experiment of New England would have been a failure.

      You are on the right track. It would be easy for you to say, "No, what I know is good enough for me," without ever having read anymore about it. But if you are curious, I would encourage you to read these four books for yourself: Of Pilgrim's Progress, Mourt's Relation, The Puritan Dilemma, and Visible Saints. The first two are primary sources, and the last two are written by Edmond Morgan. It is the best way to form your own opinion.

      ~ Ruth

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    3. Oh! I'm curious about Anne Hutchinson! While you were talking about her here, I was immediately cringing: I mean, wasn't she for women's equality and other such goodness? (I don't actually know, but I've liked every little mention of her I've read.) And they just pushed her out for speaking her voice? But then, I reread the paragraph where you talk about her, and I think I see what you're saying. The Puritan (ahem, males, I assume) had worked so hard for their experiment and couldn't afford to have people dissenting against their way of life.

      I read somewhere recently that we can miss understanding history if we seek to critique it rather than to respect its moment in history -- and where the people involved in that moment were, in history: what they knew, what they had learned, what they had faced. I can see how the Puritans would be ardently devoted to defending their experiment and their religious views, especially given that they'd come so far. They had separated from the king himself already, so it would be within their philosophy to separate themselves from anything that tested their experiment.

      On the history I mentioned:

      Mary I is known as Bloody Mary in English History. She was a Catholic and daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She was born into a turbulent moment in English history when the English people's view of religion was being challenged. Catholicism was the only Christianity they had known (as far back in history as I've read, which is the 1400s.) Suddenly Henry VIII outlawed Catholicism, established the Church of England, and said the Pope was no longer the head of the English church, which was naturally catastrophic for the people. But they got used to it. When Mary I took the throne, Protestantism was pretty well established, and suddenly it was outlawed by Mary, the Pope was back, and anyone caught practicing Protestantism could look forward to a fiery end. Which again, was fairly confusing and earth-shaking for many people in the outlying areas of England.

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    4. (Blogger made me split this into two comments!)

      When Mary I's sister Elizabeth I took the throne, Protestantism and the Church of England were reinstated, and the invasion of Ireland (and in a tentative way, Africa) began. The Irish were Catholic, which under Elizabeth I meant pagan. The Protestants tried to coax the Native Irish into becoming Protestants, and when that didn't work, they uprooted their way of life, instated Protestant churches and schools in Ireland, and waged war (or engaged in it -- the Irish started some of the wars, though understandably). By the time Oliver Cromwell entered the scene, the Irish Catholics had been booted off their land and made to work as near-slaves for the influx of Protestant pioneers.

      James I was king after Elizabeth I, his son Charles I was murdered by Puritans (by murdered, I mean regicide as part of a revolution). The Puritans took over the government for, I think thirteen years? Oliver Cromwell was the head in place of the missing monarch: the Puritan Lord Protector of England. I don't remember the exact history of his involvement in Ireland, but I know he went over and slaughtered civilians, and he is still viewed today by many Catholics in Ireland as a religious terrorist. (The Irish Civil War has been going on for centuries, with the Catholics still split against the Protestants.) During Elizabeth I's reign *, the Catholics were scape-goated as "pagan barbarians," which gave the Protestants a popular excuse for killing them. Which reminds me of the way Africans, Indians (as in India), and Native Americans were treated by incoming Europeans who just wanted to spread the good word and convert people to Christianity, and also have their land.

      * I think Elizabeth I was for converting the Irish to Protestantism because they represented a threat to her crown, but she was not in favor of the slaughter. Ireland was positioned in such a way, it was constantly a target for Roman invasion. There was an enormous fear by many in England that the Roman Empire (headed by the Spanish monarch) would take over Ireland and spread Catholicism back to England.)

      It makes me feel a lot better about the Puritans to know that you firmly hold that they wanted peace with the Native Americans. I see no personal issue with their inclination to spread their own religion peacefully -- at all. I can even understand it. I hope they were also inclined to listen to the Native Americans when they sought to share stories of their own culture and views. Though, as Separatists, it may have been something they feared would taint their group.

      I do get what you're saying about Christians who may have engaged in atrocities not being representatives of the entire group. And I appreciate your point that it may have been tempting for some (like John Brown) to use God's name as a means to attain their own ends. (Although I sincerely think he believed he was doing God's work. If you read about Concord, Massachusetts... well, even Louisa May Alcott's letters and journals, many (though they cringed at the violence) believed he was a Christian saint.) Which is why it's so scary for me to think about people wanting to spread their religion to cultures they invaded. There is so much catastrophic history involving the inclination to convert people's religion, to take their land, to strip them of their customs, and etc. But I hear what you're saying when you this was not connected to the Puritans.

      Anyway, thanks for the book suggestions and thanks for your time on this, Ruth! You've helped me think about my viewpoint, which is always stimulating. And you're right: I need to read the primary works for myself to gain a personal perspective. :-) I'll definitely add your suggestions to my to-read list. :-) I've read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and liked it -- a lot.

      Cheers Ruth! :-)

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    5. You're welcome.

      I totally believe it is necessary to understand why someone believes what he does, to essentially be in his shoes, to better understand everything, even if I may not agree or like what I read or hear.

      And reading your history on the kings/queens of England, which is covered briefly in two of the books, makes me understand why the Pilgrims, Separatists, and Puritans wanted religious liberty and to be responsible for church discipline. When State or Government was involved, it was not necessarily biblical. And according to Visible Saints, the Puritans did not exactly care for Elizabeth, even though they were glad to be done with Mary. So, I'll talk more about this in my next two posts once I get them up. (BTW, those histories you mention are truly awful and sad. I hate to think of them. No wonder so many people turn away from religion.)

      Thank you so much for your input. It is worthwhile to have these discussions.

      ~ Ruth

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    6. Elizabeth I was fairly conservative as a religious figure head, which at that time meant that she adhered pretty closely to what was considered closer to the Catholic religion than Protestantism. During her reign, and after, there was a lot of controversy over whether the church should have bishops, what should be included in the Book of Common Prayer, and that sort of thing. The Protestants had finally achieved an English Bible (as opposed to Latin), and Elizabeth was in favor of that, but if I recall, she also didn't mind the hierarchal figureheads in the church, and a Book of Common Prayer which the Puritans found too close to Catholicism, and a service that was more about worship and prayer than preaching.

      The Puritans wanted a plain church (as opposed to ornate), no drinking on Sundays, preaching during service, etc. I think Elizabeth did try to work with them, but she was more for the church her father established, and it was very close to the Catholic church, minus the pope. It was against idols, and there was a huge conflict between Catholics and Protestants about whether Christ himself was in the bread and wine during the Sacrament, or whether the bread and wine simply represented him. Also, praying through saints was outlawed during the transition between Catholicism and Protestantism.

      Elizabeth I viewed the Puritans as trouble-making radicals and, from what I've read, found them more an affront to her crown than the Catholics, but her basic philosophy was -- look outwardly like you're obeying the Church of England, and you'll be left alone. So many Protestants and Catholics during her reign privately worshipped according to their personal beliefs, and outwardly presented themselves as members of the Church of England. The most radical Puritans were the ones who simply could not live this way, and many of them eventually became Separatists. Many were thrilled when King James took the throne because they believed he'd be more open to their desire for transformation of the Church of England. He did listen (which is why he had the King James Bible published -- a new English version), but he didn't live up to their hopes, and by the time his son took over, there was a lot of fear in London that Catholicism was coming back. This was the climate that saw Ireland decimated.

      *And reading your history on the kings/queens of England, which is covered briefly in two of the books, makes me understand why the Pilgrims, Separatists, and Puritans wanted religious liberty and to be responsible for church discipline. When State or Government was involved, it was not necessarily biblical. *

      Yes, that was exactly their position, as I understand it. I can see why they'd want to defend what they saw as their opportunity for a new world, in America. (Have you looked up the Levellers and the document "The Agreement of the People" (1647)? I think you'd find it interesting if you haven't heard of it. I've read the original document.) :)

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    7. Thanks a lot for sharing this info. It is fascinating. I am intrigued by the history of the monarchy of England and France, but I have never studied it deeply. It only comes in bits and pieces, such as in this study of the Puritans.

      As you stated already, Elizabeth kept the hierarchy, and I remember Winthrop saying that they were disappointed about that. They believed each church should be accountable to its own and not have to answer to outside authority, which was too similar to the Roman Church.

      Again, if this whole history isn't supporting evidence for separation of church and state, I don't know what is.

      I will look into your link. Thanks.

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